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GOP Will Not Survive without Independent Voters, Strategist Says

by Melissa Gish, published

Could the Republican Party be spent as a national electoral force? It will be if it doesn’t learn from its mistakes and return to a more central position in American life which includes talking to independent voters, according to seasoned election strategist Ford O’Connell’s new book, Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery.

O’Connell doesn’t pull any punches in his analyses, which suggests that the GOP will have no chance of taking the White House in the foreseeable future if it doesn’t change its tune.

People Just Don’t Care That Much

O’Connell reckons Republicans are stuck in a closed dialogue – mediated largely through conservative broadcaster Fox News – that is alienating moderates and independent voters. He wants them to cast aside some of their sacred cows: “Ronald Reagan is Dead. Accept it.,” is one heading.

Abortion rights should be conceded, gay rights should be embraced, and standing against immigration reform will mark the end for the party he says. However, he’s happy for the GOP to just change the way it communicates some of its messages.

The Biblical-style fire and brimstone just turns people off, and it’s becoming a self-reinforcing feedback loop through constant repetition on Fox News. O’Connell says he believes that “most people don’t know a heck of a lot about politics and elections,” and because of this fine-tuning the message can work for the Republicans.

Modern Electoral Politics

The tightrope O’Connell’s new Republican Party would have to walk is one faced by all political parties. Their base, the hard core, keep the party alive, they canvas, hand out leaflets and so on. However, that base is also, and naturally, far more engaged and far more extreme in its views than the average voter.

It’s moderates and

independents who need to be won over to win elections, but the people who you need on your side to make the effort to win them over might just scare them off. The author says that this balancing act of firing up the committed troops and appealing to more moderate opinions can be achieved with “precision and message discipline."

Demographics are against the GOP, with minority ethnic communities (especially Hispanics) becoming more important in elections along with younger voters and unmarried women -- all groups Republicans struggle to get onside.

This approach to electoral politics has decisively won the battle of the strategies. An interesting light on American practices can be found in the UK where a succession of American (largely Democratic, tellingly) strategists are finding employment with British parties.

While the Bill Clinton team’s winning message, “It’s the economy, stupid,” may have suggested that all a political party needed to win an election was a good economics text book, now they need the best big data strategists and marketing teams.

Segmenters Segment

With the UK is due to vote in its general election a year before the states, this new business of politics is well underway already. Voters have been split into segments – leaks revealed that the Conservative Party are targeting such groups as Anxious Aspirationals – and policies are then designed to target each group.

Using the Mosaic program, voters are shoved into 15 large groups and 89 even more specific categories. The Labour Party, on hearing the news, boasted that it had moved even further along in targeting individual voters.

Learning the Lessons

However, over in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition leader Ed Miliband are aiming their fire at an increasingly small group of people.

Recent research suggests four out of ten UK voters want nothing to do with any of the three (the Liberal Democrats are coalition partners with the Conservatives) main parties and simply won’t vote for them. In America, a similar situation could mean a boost for independent voters as the two main parties, whose unseemly spat over the shutdown was a massive boost for the anti-politics stance, lose more and more support.

In Arizona, new figures report a fall in registered voters but an increase of 14,000 in the number of independents.

In North Carolina, research puts independents within the Republicans’ reach, but in New Mexico Independent voters are campaigning for reform on one of O’Connell’s problem GOP issues, immigration. He says it will take time for the party to change and names Chris Christie as the Republican figure most likely to read the runes.

Photo Credit: Flickr / Medill DC

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